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Too Young To Go Long?

Jim asks: My 11-year-old daughter wants to run a half marathon with me and my wife. She has run 10Ks and 5Ks. Could it be physically harmful for her to train and then run the race, or do we let her give it a try?

I was first confronted with this question in the 1980s regarding a 10-year-old boy who wanted to run a marathon. After discussing the situation with his father and finding it was his son’s idea and not the father’s, I gave the thumbs up and asked that his son check in with me at the finish. He looked great and had a big smile on his face. I am not sure his dad looked as fresh.

From what you describe, your daughter is the instigator and has race experience. As long as she does well training with you, I see no reason to keep her from running. But I think it’s a good idea for you or your wife to run the race with her.

These are my rules for self-motivated children and adolescents running long distances:

  • Follow a supervised training program, keeping the emphasis on fun and participation, not records and fast times.
  • Do not train or race with injury or pain.
  • Maintain normal growth in height and weight during training.
  • Remain healthy with good nutritional intake and good sleep patterns.
  • Maintain good social interaction and academic performance during training.
  • For girls: maintain normal menstrual function during training.

The last rule may not yet apply to your daughter, but I include it to remind girls and women that a loss of normal periods often means inadequate kilojoule intake for the work load of training and racing (in any sport).

As long as your daughter is having fun and wants to pursue a half marathon, I would let her try. She should be aware of the rules, and understand that you are willing to cut her training short or pull her out of the race if she experiences any problems.

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